Saturday, June 2, 2007

Does Aunt Petunia Teach Muggle Studies at Hogwarts?

Jo has an Animagus teaching Transfiguration, a Seer teaching Divination, and Dark Arts teachers that are as many, varied, and ever-changing as the Dark Arts themselves. Given her sense of humor, it certainly makes sense for her to have a Muggle teaching Muggle Studies. Only this wouldn't be much of a revelation in Deathly Hallows unless it's a Muggle we already know, and we only know one Muggle with something to hide: Aunt Petunia.

Is Aunt Petunia a Squib?

Good question. No, she is not, but — [Laughter]. No, she is not a Squib. She is a Muggle, but — [Laughter]. You will have to read the other books. You might have got the impression that there is a little bit more to Aunt Petunia than meets the eye, and you will find out what it is. She is not a squib, although that is a very good guess. Oh, I am giving a lot away here. I am being shockingly indiscreet.


This would also explain why the information about teachers' spouses has been restricted so far.

A few of the Hogwarts professors have spouses, but the information is restricted – we’ll find out why!


Here are a few of the main objections to this theory:

1. But Hermione took Muggle Studies and saw Aunt Petunia on the platform at the end of OotP. Surely she would have recognized her and said something to Harry?

Not if Dumbledore made her promise not to. She kept stuff from Harry at the beginning of OotP for the same reason.

2. Muggles can't see Hogwarts.

Q: Can Muggles see Hogwarts ? (Melinda, 11, CA)

A: Aaah — who asked that? Smart Melinda! You find out in Book 4. When they look towards it, as a safety precaution, they see a ruin with a sign saying it's unsafe ... they mustn't enter. They can't see it as it really is.


Nothing on what happens if they ignore the sign and enter anyway.

3. Aunt Petunia hates magic.

Well Harry certainly thinks so, but Harry's not always right about people. She does seem afraid of it (what Muggle wouldn't be?), which would make it extremely brave of her to teach at Hogwarts anyway. Then again, she is Lily Evans's sister, so maybe she's a lot braver than we all thought.

4. What about Uncle Vernon?

Maybe he thinks she teaches at an ordinary Muggle boarding school during the year. I always thought it was a bit suspicious that, except for OotP, he's the only one ever mentioned as showing up at the station to collect Harry at the end of the year....

5. Wouldn't Harry see her at meals?

Maybe she prefers to dine alone in her room, as much out of the company of wizard's as possible.

6. But why bother? What would be the point of going through all that trouble to have her be the Muggle Studies teacher?

The blood protection. As long as Harry can call home the place where his mother's blood dwells, there Voldemort cannot hurt him. Harry certainly thinks of Hogwarts as his home, much more than Privet Drive, and if Aunt Petunia is teaching there, it's her second home too. This would mean that Harry is protected both in the castle and at Privet Drive, and would help explain why Dumbledore is willing to let him face Voldemort at school his first year.

"D'you think he meant you to do it?" said Ron. "Sending you your father's cloak and everything?"

"Well," Hermione exploded, "if he did — I mean to say — that's terrible — you could have been killed."

"No, it isn't," said Harry thoughtfully. "He's a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don't think it was an accident he let me find out how the mirror worked. It's almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could...."

PS/SS, p. 302

If I were Dumbledore, I would feel a lot more comfortable letting a first year do this if I knew Voldemort couldn't harm him because Aunt Petunia was living in the castle. And when Harry asks why Quirrell couldn't touch him, Dumbledore explains it was because of Lily's sacrifice — the same magic he used to protect Privet Drive.

Harry also faced Voldemort at school his second year and got away; in his fourth year, Voldemort did get his hands on him, but had to take him away from the castle to do it; his fifth year Voldemort got into his mind to show him visions, but couldn't harm him by, say, having him drink poison or throw himself down the stairs; and Voldemort didn't even try breaking into the castle sixth year, even though Dumbledore was gone for long stretches of time. Maybe Harry has been safe at school all this time because Lily's blood dwells in the castle too.


Sunday, April 15, 2007


I took The Ultimate Deathly Hallows Predictions Exam at The Leaky Cauldron, and learned in the process that Ginny's Patronus is supposedly a phoenix. The quiz also brought up that Ron got a funny watch for his birthday in HBP that looks a lot like Dumbledore's, which is a detail I'd totally missed up til now. I'm thinking I ought to go back and reread HBP again, since I've done a lot of research on tarot and alchemical symbology since the last time.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ginny Weasley is a Vampire!

Look what I found in the Wikipedia entry for Romanian vampires:

Romanian tradition described a myriad of ways of bringing about a vampire. A person born with a caul, an extra nipple, a tail, or extra hair was doomed to become a vampire. The same fate applied to someone born too early, someone whose mother encountered black cat cross her path, and someone who was born out of wedlock. Others who became vampires were those who died an unnatural death or before baptism, the seventh child in any family (presuming all of his or her previous siblings were of the same sex), the child of a pregnant woman who avoided eating salt, and a person who was looked upon by a vampire or a witch. Moreover, being bitten by a vampire meant certain condemnation to a vampiric existence after death.

Random Thoughts on Quidditch

Like everything else in the wizarding world, I think Quidditch came out of Harry. In particular, I think it was designed to showcase his strengths — his grit and determination, his courage, his ability to spot things other people don't. And I also think it's an embodiment of Jo's principles, that she thinks highly of Seekers who rise above the game and focus on the one slippery, elusive, subtle thing they know is out there but almost no one else can see.

Since Seeker is also the term for someone who's having their tarot cards read, it's also apt for Harry because it's his life unfolding in the books. That probably makes all of us the Readers (the ones reading and interpreting the tarot cards), but I think the best contrast is with Jo's Seer. Trelawney has overly magnified eyes and fails to see the occasional truth in her own predictions, which Harry does see, but only in the course of seeking out Voldemort. Basically, I think Jo has a lot more respect for people who relentlessly seek out the truth than for people who see things and take them at face value.

I've sometimes stumbled over ideas that seem too good to be true and felt like Harry the time he accidentally caught the snitch in his mouth.

And while this may not have anything to do with anything, I also like how the number of points the Seeker earns (150) is the same as Dumbledore's age, which Jo gave as 150 in both 2000 and 2005. It might just be her "big, important number" (like I think the "forests of Albania" are just her "Forbidden Forest for grown-ups").

One final thing on this subject: I just learned yesterday that the halo of light often show around the heads of saints in artwork is called a nimbus.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

I was thinking yesterday about the various types of life lessons Harry learns throughout the books, and how he learns them. Romance, or romantic love, for example. He never really gets a lesson all at once, his understanding is slowly built up through lots of different incidents — some he's involved in, others where he's more of a passive observer. And as I was trying to trace out various principles and how he comes to learn about them, guess what image popped in my head? A map of the London Underground. Which may or may not mean anything, but I thought it was kind of cool.

Also read a bit on the Lexicon (under Dumbledore's profile) about the connections of Dumbledore's names to the Beowulf epic. Beowulf slays the monster Grendel, which sounds an awful lot like Grindelwald. He then dives into a lake and gets Grendel's mum, which reminded me of Harry's second task in GoF. The name "Beowulf" has been translated by some as "bee-wulf"; the "wulf" part might have something to do with the Wulfing clan that shows up in the poem, and sounds like one of Dumbledore's middle names, Wulfric. And "Dumbledore" was an Old English word for "bumblebee." I followed up on bee mythology a bit, and the most significant thing that turned up was the name Merope, which means bee-eater, and somehow refers to an important archetypal character in various bee mythologies. All of which may still amount to nothing in terms of shedding light on the mysteries of Harry Potter, but seemed worth noting down for future reference nonetheless.

Finally, I read the story of Parzival, the Grail Knight, last week. Dumbledore's middle name Percival supposedly refers to this guy, and I have to say I was really struck by how similar the powers of the Holy Grail are to the Philosopher's Stone. Eternal life and riches, basically. I suspect — and I think JKR would cautiously agree — that they were just two different names and mythologies for the same thing. That same thing that I think the Potter series has been leading up to as well.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Way Too Much Alchemical HP Symbolism

Damn. I do a little more digging around in alchemical texts and suddenly a deluge of relevant Potter imagery comes gushing forth. There's so much that seems to fit with my quintessential Potter theory (and don't even get me started on quintessence being the fifth Hermetic element) that I don't even know what to do with it. Except document it, I suppose, for now. Maybe I'll work up a more elaborate theory later. And if you haven't read the post below this one, you should do that first.

The final stages of inner alchemy and the animal symbolism relating thereto: white tincture (unicorn), red tincture (stag), final work (phoenix).

White tincture represents the feminine aspect of the soul. Sometimes symbolized by the unicorn, because the unicorn could only be tamed by the touch of a pure woman. Also pictured as a queen dressed in shining white robes appearing in the alchemist's flask.

I will add that lilies are also white and symbolize purity. (I wonder what happens when a queen sacrifices herself in wizard chess?)

Red tincture represents the masculine aspect of the soul. Sometimes symbolized by the stag bearing antlers, the stag being seen as a noble masculine animal. Also pictured as a red king or knight brandishing a sword in the alchemist's flask.

In some alchemical illustrations, such as that of the late 16th century Book of Lambspring, the Stag and Unicorn meet in the forest of the soul as part of the process of inner transformation. (I wonder if the forest in Albania is just the Forbidden Forest for grown-ups?)

The tinctures of alchemy relate also to the substances of the Mass — the red wine, the blood, and the white wafer, the body of Christ. Administration of the sacraments was seen as spiritualising the soul of the partaker, and the tinctures serve much the same purpose in alchemy but without a priest. Here alchemy apparently links directly with Grail stories, which use similar parallels between the Grail and the Sacraments. Now is probably not the time for me to delve into Arthurian Grail quest or the hallows (sacred objects of the inner quest) found along the way, or to try and relate these to the tarot.

Where was I? Oh yes, the Stag and Unicorn have met up, and now it's time for the final stage of the alchemist's work, symbolized by...

The Phoenix! Rising from the flames! Hey, maybe I should have invoked the Lightening Struck Tower tarot card. But in interior terms the phoenix marks the rebirth of the personality from out of the crucible of transformation. In other words, alchemists experienced an inner death and then rebirth in attaining the "Philosopher's Stone." For the record, I should probably note that I think Dumbledore is quite dead and that Harry is the metaphorical newborn phoenix who's going to rise from the ashes.

One symbol for the philosopher's stone was the ouroboros, the snake eating it's own tail. I'm sure I've already discussed somewhere below how this also signifies the dual nature of all things, the vicious cycle that begins anew as soon as it ends, immortality, the One who proceeds from the clash of opposites; and I think Carl Jung also said that the ouroboros simultaneously slays himself and brings himself to life. Which is so Voldemort & Harry.

Also uncovered some interesting but somewhat cryptic 14th century writings by Nicholas Flamel. There's a lot of snake imagery on his gravestone, including the ouroboros and the caduceus (two intertwined snakes, representing primal power to heal or harm, see chapters 21 & 22 of OotP), and he seemed to have a thing about helping orphans. I'm sure there's more, but I couldn't get myself to read it.

I suppose it's a good sign for a quintessential Harry Potter theory when not only all of what Jo has ever said in interviews but also ~2,500 years of Western philosophical tradition line up neatly behind it. Now if only I could find a way to make money off this....

ETA: Does it never end?? Add to list of important alchemical emblems the knight with sword fighting giant inner snake, the wild wolf and tame dog vying for supremacy at the edge of the forest, the king of the forest who does not have to fight the beasties in it, and the Stag and Unicorn turned to red and white birds fighting each other (one above and one below), before transforming into white doves and then becoming a phoenix (the polarities fight, absorb each other, and then are reborn in a new form).

Alchemy and the Key to Solving Harry Potter

In a recently archived interview from 1998, Jo said: "I've never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that's a different matter. To invent this wizard world, I've learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I'll never use in the books, but I have to know it detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories' internal logic."

My philosophy is that if Jo finds a subject very interesting, it's probably worth my while to learn a little bit about it. So I hurried off to the Wikipedia (my version of the Hogwarts library) to read up on alchemy. I already knew that the philosopher's stone was supposed to be able to transmute base metals into gold and prolong life indefinitely, but I learned also that, "The philosopher's stone was believed to mystically amplify the user's knowledge of alchemy so much that anything was attainable."

I really like this idea. Better yet:

"Both the transmutation of common metals into gold and the universal panacea [Elixir of Life] symbolized evolution from an imperfect, diseased, corruptible and ephemeral state towards a perfect, healthy, incorruptible and everlasting state; and the philosopher's stone then represented some mystic key that would make this evolution possible. Applied to the alchemist himself, the twin goal symbolized his evolution from ignorance to enlightenment, and the stone represented some hidden spiritual truth or power that would lead to that goal. In texts that are written according to this view, the cryptic alchemical symbols, diagrams, and textual imagery of late alchemical works typically contain multiple layers of meanings, allegories, and references to other equally cryptic works; and must be laboriously 'decoded' in order to discover their true meaning."

*evil cackle*

I love codes and puzzles and ciphers, and generally finding hidden meanings. And if you visit Jo's website and start hunting around for the hidden content that goes in the scrapbook, I think you'll see that she does too.

I also like playing pretend. So let's pretend that the Harry Potter series is a "late alchemical work" and contains multiple layers of meaning and allegory that must be laboriously decoded in order to discover their true meaning. Let's also say that enlightenment here is knowledge of what is in that final chapter of book 7 that has been sitting in Jo's vault since circa 1990.

What we need now is a magical key, something that represents a hidden truth which can lead us to this goal. And since we still don't know very much about alchemy, it would be nice to have something to magically amplify our knowledge of it so much that anything is attainable. The answer should be obvious by now: go get your copy of Philosopher's Stone. (If you have the American version, do note the random golden key on the back cover.)

The gauntlet Harry runs in chapters 16 and 17 — the seven chambers leading up to the stone and Harry's final encounter with Voldemort — are the most heavily laden with cryptic symbolism and imagery. This is where you really have to use your imagination to put yourself in those chambers and think about what you would do if you were really there, if you were Harry. Look for patterns in what the trio have to do, and when you've found a good one, try projecting it onto the remaining six books in the series.

It's not easy, but I think after you've really worked your way through those seven chambers a few times, the truth of Harry's ultimate destiny might just fall into your head/pocket the same way Harry himself fell into Jo's. Just make it your heart's desire and use your eyes. :D